Be pound poor and become Penny rich

Energy management is and should be perceived as a long-term investment by organisations. Having said this, the need for all organisations to implement energy management strategies now cannot be overstated as these strategies will save their costs of running the business in future.

Many organisations may shy off from implementing energy efficiency measures in place opting to save the associated costs or to use the cash for other projects that may be perceived as high priority in the short run. This is most likely to occur when cost cutting is a priority. Long-term planning is however critical for energy efficiency programs. Taking steps to improve building management and energy efficiency will and does pay dividends in the near-term and may be a competitive tool in the long-term.

Be energy smart
All energy management projects begin with being energy smart which calls for the understanding of energy usage. Use of Smart Meters that give real time readings of energy usage, can dramatically help businesses understand the benefit which energy management brings to the organisation.

Smart meters also cut the amount of time businesses spend on administration by allowing them to pay accurate bills, based on accurate readings. Some suppliers also support businesses to identify areas of energy wastage/inefficiency and help setting targets for energy reduction that guide behavioural change with regard to energy in the organisation.

Use of technologies that record the energy usage at the water or electricity meters putting data into a system where the users can graph it has made it easy to compare energy consumption in various departments, sites or buildings. Appropriate measures can then be implemented to improve the efficiency.

Partnerships between businesses and energy suppliers
Since the long-term benefits of reduced energy consumption is beneficial to both suppliers and consumers; the responsibility of managing energy consumption is being taken by both. Businesses should work with the suppliers on cost reduction strategies through identifying areas where energy is being wasted and advising businesses on how to save energy. Of key importance when choosing an energy supplier therefore is their depth of understanding of a business’ energy management needs.

Capitalise on government incentives
Businesses should always explore varied financing mechanisms for their energy efficiency programs e.g. government schemes generating electricity and selling it to the grid.

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ESOS ? Why we must have it

The 9,000 big UK businesses directly affected by the new Energy Saving Opportunity Scheme could save UK?250 million between them, or an average UK?27,000 each, if they reduced electricity consumption by just 1%. The total amount is equal to the output of five power stations, at a time when Britain?s grid is under strain.
On 26 November 2014, UK Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey met with over 100 opinion makers from businesses, charities and universities at the Institute of Directors. The gist of what he presented was:

  • ?Britain?s big firms are spending around ?2.8 billion extra each year on inefficient energy technologies ? the equivalent output of nearly five power stations;
  • Now is the time to seize the opportunity with ESOS ? and organisations up and down the country are already gearing up to make changes to save energy, save money and save the environment.
  • If business did what business is supposed to do [that is innovate to make money] and act and invest, it will save ? and that’s the bottom line.?

The environmental benefits are as important although EcoVaro agrees with Ed Davey for taking a pecuniary approach. Businesses above the threshold of 250 staff and a balance sheet of UK?34 million would have not achieved their status unless they spent their money wisely.
The discussion panel included Rhian Kelly (Director of Business Environment at CBI), and Paul Ekins (Director UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources & Deputy Director of the UK Energy Research Centre). Hugh Jones, Managing Director, Advisory at the Carbon Trust responded to Ed Davey?s remarks by commenting:

  • ?At the Carbon Trust we have already engaged with hundreds of businesses on ESOS, helping to explain how they can achieve compliance while also making significant energy savings and cutting carbon.
  • Businesses often aren’t aware of opportunities in energy efficiency, or they don’t realise how attractive the paybacks can be. By requiring companies to understand exactly how they can make cost-effective investment in energy efficiency, they are far more likely to take action.
  • From the interest we have seen so far we expect ESOS to benefit British business by helping companies to reduce overheads and increase competitiveness.

The UK?s Energy Saving Opportunity Scheme ESOS is a gold mine of opportunities for big business, the environment and the population that breathes the air. Measurement of critical energy throughputs is the beginning of the process. EcoVaro is standing by to help you convert your data to meaningful information.

Spreadsheet Risks in Banks

No other industry perhaps handles such large volumes of critical financial data more than the banking industry. For decades now, spreadsheets have become permanent fixtures in the front-line reporting tool sets of banks, providing organised information when and where needed.

But as banks enter into a period of heightened credit risks, elevated levels of fraud, and greater regulatory scrutiny, many are wondering if continued reliance on spreadsheets is a wise decision for banks today.

The downfall of Lehman Brothers which eventually led to its filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on September 15, 2008, served as a wake up call for many institutions across the globe to make a serious examination of their own risk management practices. But would these reforms include evaluating the security of user developed applications (UDAs), the most common of which are spreadsheets, and putting specific guidelines as to when they can – or cannot be – used?

Banks and Spreadsheet Use

Banks have been known to utilise spreadsheets systems for many critical functions because most personnel are well-acquainted with them, and the freedom of being able to develop customised reports without needing to consult with the IT department offers flexibility and convenience. In fact, more than having a way to do financial budgeting and analysing customer profitability, even loan officers and trade managers have become reliant on spreadsheets for risk management reporting and for making underwriting decisions.

But there are more than a few drawbacks to using spreadsheets for these tasks, and the sooner bank executives realise these, the sooner they can adopt better solutions.

General Limitations

Spreadsheets are far from being data base systems and yet more often than not, they are expected to act as such, with figures constantly added and formulas edited to produce the presumably right set of reports.

In addition, data integrity is always a cause for concern as most values in spreadsheets are entered as manual inputs. Even the mere misplacement of a comma or a negative sign, or an inadvertent ?edit? to a formula can also be a source of significant changes in the outcome.

Confidentiality risk is also another drawback of the use of spreadsheets in banks as these tools do not have adequate?access controls to limit access to only authorised individuals. Pertinent financial information that fall into the wrong hands can lead to a whole new set of problems including the possibility of fraud.

Risks in Trading

For trading transactions, spreadsheets can prove to be of immense use – but only for small market volumes. As trade volumes increase and the types vary, spreadsheets are no longer a viable solution and may likely become more of a hindrance, with calculations taking longer in the face of bigger transaction amounts and growing transaction data.

And in trading, there is always the need for rigorous computational functions. Computing for the Value at Risk (VaR) for large portfolios for instance, is simply way beyond the capabilities of spreadsheets. Banks that persist in using them are increasing the risk of loss on those portfolios. Or, they can be opening up?opportunities for fraud?as Allied Irish Bank (in the case of John Rusnak – $690 million) learned the hard way.

Risks in Underwriting

Bankers who use spreadsheets as their main source of information for underwriting procedures also face certain limitations. Loan transactions require that borrowers? financial data be centralised and easily accessible to risk officers and lending officers involved in making decisions. With spreadsheets, there is no simple and secure way of doing that. Information can be pulled from different sources – individual tax returns, corporate tax documents, partnership documents, audited financial statements – hence there is difficulty in verifying that these reports adhere to underwriting policies.

Spreadsheet control and monitoring

Financial institutions which are having difficulty weaning themselves from the convenience and simplicity that spreadsheets offer are looking for possible control solutions. Essentially, they want to find ways that allow them to continue using these UDAs and yet somehow eliminate the?spreadsheet risks?and limitations involved.

Still, the debate goes back and forth on whether adequate control measures can be implemented on spreadsheets so that that the risks are mitigated. Many services have come forward to herald innovative solutions for better spreadsheet management. But at the end of the day, there really is no guarantee that such solutions would suffice.

More Spreadsheet Blogs


Spreadsheet Risks in Banks


Top 10 Disadvantages of Spreadsheets


Disadvantages of Spreadsheets – obstacles to compliance in the Healthcare Industry


How Internal Auditors can win the War against Spreadsheet Fraud


Spreadsheet Reporting – No Room in your company in an age of Business Intelligence


Still looking for a Way to Consolidate Excel Spreadsheets?


Disadvantages of Spreadsheets


Spreadsheet woes – ill equipped for an Agile Business Environment


Spreadsheet Fraud


Spreadsheet Woes – Limited features for easy adoption of a control framework


Spreadsheet woes – Burden in SOX Compliance and other Regulations


Spreadsheet Risk Issues


Server Application Solutions – Don’t let Spreadsheets hold your Business back


Why Spreadsheets can send the pillars of Solvency II crashing down

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8 Best Practices To Reduce Technical Debt

When past actions in software development return to haunt you…

Is your business being bogged down by technical debt? Let’s look at measures that you can take to reduce it and scale your operations without the weight pulling you back. 

 

Work with a flexible architecture.

Right from the word go, you want to use architecture whose design is malleable, especially with the rapid rate of software evolution witnessed today. Going with an architecture that keeps calling for too much refactoring, or whose design won’t accommodate future changes will leave you with costly technical debt. Use scalable architecture that allows you to modify or add new features in future releases. While on this, complex features required in the final product should be discussed at the planning stage, that way simplified solutions that will be easier to implement can be identified, as this will lead to less technical debt in the long run. 

 

The Deal with Refactoring 

This is basically cleaning up the code structure without changing its behaviour. With the updates, patches, and new functionalities that are added to the systems and applications, each change comes with the threat of more technical debt. Additionally, organisations are increasingly moving their IT infrastructure from on-premises facilities to colocation data centres and deploying them on the cloud. In such scenarios, some workarounds are often needed to enable the systems to function in the new environments, which they hadn’t been initially developed to accommodate. Here, you will need to take some time to refactor the existing system regularly, streamlining the code and optimizing its performance – and this will be key to pay down the tech debt. When working with a flexible architecture from the start, the amount of work that goes into this will be reduced, meaning there’ll be less tech debt involved. 

 

Run discovery tests

Discovery testing essentially takes place even before a line of code is written for the system or application. This takes place at the product definition stage, where human insight software is used to understand the needs of the customer and is particularly helpful in setting priorities for the development work that will be carried out. It gives your business the opportunity to minimize the technical debt by allowing customers to give you a roadmap of the most pertinent features desired from the product. 

 

Routine code review

Getting a fresh look at the product or application from different sets of eyes in the development team will improve the quality of the code, thus reducing technical debt. There’s a catch though – this should be planned in a convenient way that doesn’t end up becoming a burden for the developers. Here are suggestions:

Break down pull requests

Instead of having complex pull requests where numerous changes in the code are introduced at a go, have this broken down into smaller manageable pull requests, each with a brief title and description about it. This will be easier for the code reviewer to analyse. 

● Define preferred coding practices

Documenting the preferred coding style will result in cleaner code, meaning the developers will focus their effort on reviewing the code itself, not losing time on code format debates.

 

Test automation

Relying only on scheduled manual testing opens you up to the risk of technical debt accruing rapidly, and not having sufficient resources to deal with the accumulated problems when they are identified. Automated testing on the other hand enables issues to be uncovered quicker, and with more precision. For instance, you can have automated unit tests that look at the functioning of the individual components of a system, or regression testing where the focus is on whether the code changes that have been implemented have affected related components of the system. However, establishing and maintaining automated testing will require quite some effort – making it more feasible for the long-term projects.

 

Keep a repository that tracks changes made

Do you have a record of changes made in the software? Keeping one in a repository that is accessible by the development team will make it easy to pin-point problems at their source. For instance, when software is being migrated to a new environment, or legacy software is in the process of being modernised, you will want to have an accurate record of changes that are being introduced, that way if there is an undesired impact on the system this it will be easier to zero-down on the cause.

 

Bring non-technical stakeholders on board

Does this conversation sound familiar?

Development Team: “We need to refactor the messy code quickly”

Product Team: “We have no idea what you are saying”

On one hand, you have the management or product team defining the product requirements, creating a project roadmap, and setting its milestones. On the other hand, there’s the software development/engineering that’s primarily focused on the product functionality, technical operations and clearing the backlog in code fixes. Poor communication between the two teams is actually a leading cause of technical debt.

For you to take concrete steps in managing your technical debt, the decision-makers in the organisation should understand its significance, and the necessity of reducing it. Explain to them how the debt occurred and why steps need to be taken to pay it down – but you can’t just bombard them with tech phrases and expect them to follow your thought process. 

So how do you go about it? Reframe the issues involved with the technical debt and explain the business value or impact of the code changes. Basically, the development team should approach it from a business point of view, and educate the management or production team about the cost of the technical debt. This can include aspects such as expenses in changing the code, salaries for the software engineers especially when the development team will need to be increased due to the workload piling up, as well as the revenue that is lost when the technical debt is allowed to spiral. 

The goal here is to show the management or production team how issues like failing to properly define the product requirements will slow down future software development, or how rushing the code will affect the next releases. That way, there will be better collaboration between the teams involved in the project. 

 

Allocate time and resources specifically for reducing technical debt

With management understanding that working with low-quality code is just like incurring financial debt and it will slow down product development, insist on setting time to deal with the debt. 

For instance, when it comes to the timing of application releases, meetings can be conducted to review short- and longer-term priorities. These meetings – where the development team and product team or management are brought together, the developers point out the software issues that should be resolved as a priority as they may create more technical debt. Management then ensures that budgets and plans are put in place to explicitly deal with those ongoing maintenance costs.

 

Retire old platforms

While most of the resources are going into developing new applications and improving the systems being used, the organisation should also focus on retiring the old applications, libraries, platforms, and the code modules. It’s recommended that you factor this into the application release plans, complete with the dates, processes and costs for the systems involved. 

 

Total overhaul

When the cost and effort of dealing with the technical debt far outweighs the benefits, then you may have to replace the entire system. At this tipping point, you’re not getting value from the technical debt, and it has become a painful issue that’s causing your organisation lots of difficulties. For instance, you may be dealing with legacy software where fixing it to support future developments has simply become too complicated. The patches available may only resolve specific issues with the system, and still leave you with lots of technical debt. Here, the best way out is to replace the system in its entirety. 

 

Final thoughts

Every software company has some level of tech debt. Just like financial debt, it is useful when properly managed, and a problem when ignored or allowed to spiral out of control. It’s a tradeoff between design/development actions and business goals. By taking measures to pay down your organization’s debt and address its interest as it accrues, you will avoid situations where short term solutions undermine your long-term goals. This is also key to enable your business to transition to using complex IT solutions easier, and even make the migration between data centres much smoother. These 8 measures will enable you to manage your technical debt better to prevent it from being the bottleneck that stifles your growth.

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